Weather Camera Hardware

What Camera Should I Buy

People see my cameras and want to setup cameras on their property. One of the first questions I always get is "what camera should I buy?". This is a hard question to answer. The best answer I can give is "It depends!".

In order to answer the question "What camera should I buy?" intelligently, you need to ask yourself a bunch of other questions. Here are some of the most important questions.

  • Will I need to view this camera online?
  • Will my camera be located outside?
  • What is the subject matter of the viewing? How much detail do you need in the picture?
  • What is the lighting like at night?
  • Do I need sound?
  • Do I need Pan/Tilt/Zoom?
  • Do I want Wireless?
  • Do I need to archive video?
  • How much money do I have to spend?

Lets address these questions, then you may have an idea of what camera you should buy.

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Will you need to view this camera online?

Their are two main types of cameras. IP cameras live on the net, so they are really easy to setup to view online. CCTV or Closed Circuit Television cameras are hard wired. Online viewing is a secondary feature of these cameras, if it is a feature at all.

So, if you need to view your camera(s) online, I recommend IP cameras. IP cameras will allow you the most options that should be easy to implement. Most IP cameras work with apps on your phone or tablets, and come with software to view your camera on your PC/Mac.

If the answer is "no" or "it would be nice, but not really", then either type of camera should work well for you and this should not be a factor in your buying decision.

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Will your camera be located outside?

Outdoor use is a big factor to consider when buying a camera. An outdoor camera needs to be protected from rain, sun, wind and generally be built tough.

If you buy an indoor camera and place it outside, expect it to fail in short order! That being said, I have been using an indoor camera outside for years and it is still going strong. So it can be done, but I DO NOT recommend it.

If your camera is being placed outside, buy a camera built for outdoor use. You will most likely find that outdoor cameras lack some features that you get on most indoor cameras, and they are a little more expensive in most cases. But if reliability and length of quality service is a factor, an outdoor camera is the only way to go.

If your camera is going to be located in an enclosed area, like in your garage or in your house, then you can buy either an outdoor or indoor camera and this should not be a factor in your buying decision.

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What is the subject matter of the viewing?

This is a question most people fail to ask when buying a camera. A LOT of camera manufacturers take advantage of this by selling you a camera that has a bunch of features but has a terrible picture quality.

Most inexpensive cameras and some expensive cameras have a low picture resolution. If you need to view the license plate of the cars going by, you are going to need 1080p or better resolution. If you want to be able to clearly identify peoples faces you will need to get at least 780p or better.

To confuse the matter, resolutions on cameras are not only listed in 1080p or 780p. Sometimes they are listed as Megapixels, or just "high resolution". Megapixels (MPs) don't tell you everything, but I can say run away from cameras that are less than 1mp. A .3mp camera is garbage in my opinion. A 3mp camera is something I am really interested in looking at. If the resolution is not listed, ask, or better yet move on to the next camera. "High Resolution" tells you NOTHING. Get a real resolution from the manufacturer.

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What is the lighting like at night?

Everyone I know, when they first considered a camera thinks they want NightVision! Not everyone knows what NightVision is. Night vision cameras are regular cameras with the IR cut filter removed. This makes the camera capable of seeing IR light that is invisible to the human eye. There is one Pro and a bunch of Cons to this.

  • PRO: If using adequate IR lighting, and the subject you are viewing reflects light, the camera can see in what appears to be total darkness to the naked eye.
  • CON: There is no color, a black and white picture when in IR mode
  • CON: The daytime color is funky...just not right. Some colors, like bright whites, may look fluorescent yellow.
  • CON: Most (not all, but most) night vision cameras have terrible picture quality at night. Almost a "why bother" quality.
  • CON: "IR Array" cameras usually do well at night for the most part, but you need a higher amp power supply than most people buy. Using insufficient amperage will cause problems like a bad picture or may cause the camera to shut down when the lights are triggered.
  • CON: IR cameras require an IR light source to invisibly light up the subject. Most IR cameras have a bunch of IR LED lights to do this. I have yet to see a regular LED IR camera do a decent job outside. The LED lights just are not powerful enough. Go instead with an LED Array of 3 or 4 chips and use a laptop power supply.

On most low end cameras, NightVision is usually a grainy black and white low resolution video that is as close to useless as you can get. The day time colors are useless if you are trying to report a crime to the police, as the removal of the IR cut filter causes colors to do some really strange things. The grass may be green, but that guy stealing you motorcycle really has a red shirt on, not a peach shirt like it shows in the video.

So before you say "I Need NightVision!" let's think about what we are trying to see at night. If there is a source of light at night in the area, lets say a street light or a porch light, a better solution is probably a "low light" camera. Low light has several advantages. First, low light cameras have color at night as well as usually having great daytime colors. Second, due to the filtering NightVision uses the daylight colors are usually much more realistic on a low light camera. Low Light cameras can see fairly well in very little light. NightVision requires something to reflect the infrared light. So if the subject is a dark color, like a skunk or a raccoon, you may not be able to see it, even if you have the best NightVision. Low Light cameras and are a much better solution when there is some light available, in my humble opinion.

Okay, if you have decided you do need NightVision. You are going to find most cameras out there have it as a feature. Most low end and some high end cameras use LED lights to generate the Infrared light. If you buy a camera with LED lights to illuminate the subject area, prepare to be disappointed. LED lights, in general, work very poorly as NightVision light emitters. They have poor range, and I am not sure why they are so popular. If you have to go with LED lights, the more the better and you will still probably hate the NightVision. On the plus side, most NightVision cameras are also low light cameras, so if their is some light your picture may be acceptable.

A much better solution is an LED ARRAY. Unlike plain old LED lights, an LED ARRAY uses multiple LED chips mounted behind lenses about the size of a penny. The difference between LED lights and using an LED ARRAY is like night and day...literally. Think of an LED ARRAY as a set of flood lights. Your picture will still be in black and white, but it will be (in most cases) as bright as daylight and of similar picture quality. If you must have NightVision, get an LED ARRAY camera. NOTE: LED ARRAY cameras usually take more power than their led light counterparts and often come without a power supply. Use a power cable from a laptop and it usually works well.

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Do I need sound?

A cool feature on some cameras is sound. Some cameras have built in microphones. Some have built in microphones and speakers. Some have jacks allowing you to hook external microphones and/or speakers. Some cameras have no sound capabilities at all.

In most cases, you do not need sound to make your camera effective. But their are some situations where it is required. If you are using a CCTV camera, for as little as $3.00 you can add a microphone to any camera you have. So it makes little difference if the camera has sound capabilities. Look for a Camera Microphone on for example Amazon or Ebay. They are easy to add on. IP Cameras, on the other hand, must have sound capabilities either built in, or have external jacks that allow you to add sound if sound is a requirement.

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Do I need Pan/Tilt/Zoom?

First, lets talk about ZOOM. Their are two types of zoom. Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom. Optical Zoom uses lenses on the camera to give you a zoom that is clear and of good quality. Most cameras do not have optical zoom. Digital zoom is a trick. Digital zoom uses software to zoom. Each time you increase the size of the picture, the quality and clarity gets worse. Depending on the software you are using to view your camera, EVERY CAMERA CAN HAVE DIGITAL ZOOM. Let's take the cameras that I have on this website as an example. Only one of the three cameras have built in zoom capabilities. However, I have placed a ZOOM button on the screen allowing you infinite digital zooming on all three cameras. After about 3 or 4 times of pressing the button, the picture becomes so distorted, it is not of any use. If a camera has built in 3X zoom, it probably means that the manufacturer looked at the picture at 4X and decided it was to distorted to use, so they limited it to 3X.

Pan and Tilt turns your camera left/right and up/down. Most cameras that have pan/tilt capabilities have limited tilt (up/down) and close to 360 pan (left/right). You can get cameras with these capabilities in both IP cameras and CCTV cameras.

Pan/Tilt has some drawbacks that need to be considered. First, it is something else that can break on your camera. Second, if you turn your camera and forget to turn it back to where you want it to typically view, you will miss the action you are trying to monitor. If your camera has NightVision, pan/tilt can cause real issues especially for outdoor cameras. If your outdoor camera is a dome camera, and they placed the LEDs inside the dome, you are going to get reflection off the dome making NightVision one big glare fest. Why some manufacturers do this is beyond me.

Most of the time you will buy a camera to view a specific subject area, and Pan/Tilt is totally superfluous. Don't get a camera with this feature unless you really need it for some reason.

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Do I need Wireless?

Flat out the answer is "NO!!" Most IP cameras are wireless, but you do not want to use the wireless feature. Fortunately, most IP cameras come with a RJ45 jack to plug in an Ethernet cable. You do want to use the RJ45.

Am I crazy? Why would I not want to use the wireless feature? Well I am not crazy. Wireless is garbage. First, their is no such thing as a wireless camera as far as I know. You must run power to the camera. Second, wireless fails for a bunch of reasons. A microwave oven uses radio waves to cook. Turn on your microwave, your wireless camera is likely to fail. A taxi drives by using its radio, your camera is likely to fail. You move a piece of furniture, it may be a problem for your camera.

A camera needs to be dependable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you hook it up WiFi, it will fail. If you get it to stay online longer than 2 days in a row, I would be shocked. Do yourself a favor. Use the RJ45 jack.

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Do I need to archive video?

Well, that depends on what you want the camera(s) for. A video archiving system, known better to most people as a DVR, is a MUST if you are using your cameras for security. If you are not going to record your security cameras, you might as well put up dummy video cameras. You need the ability to go back in time and replay an event.

You need to answer this question for yourself. I can only try to help by pointing out some of your options should you decide you do want to archive.

A dedicated DVR is kind of expensive. You can turn a PC into a DVR, but you have to pretty much dedicate a PC to being your DVR. PC's are expensive. You can buy a "dedicated DVR" that is not a PC for less than the cost of most PC's, but it is really, really hard to find a dedicated DVR that handles IP cameras. At least one that handles IP cameras and does not cost an arm and a leg. I haven't found one, so 2 of my DVRs are PCs. One of DVRs is a dedicated DVR but it only deals with CCTV cameras.

Visit the camera software section for my opinion of some software to turn a PC into a DVR.

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How much money do I have to spend?

In my opinion, you can get away with spending less than $70.00 on a decent camera, Ethernet cable, and using a PC you already own. Other than that, you can spend thousands and video record your own bankruptcy. Better I think is you decide what you can afford and spend only that.

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Let's look at some hardware.

Hopefully, you now have an idea of how to answer your own question "What camera should I buy?". You should now have an idea of what you need to look for. Be careful, there is a LOT of junk for sale. Be thorough, read the reviews of others who have purchased the cameras you find. Make the purchase decision based on what you NEED. If it has other features, that is okay, just make sure it has what you need.

Now I will show you some of the cameras I own and give you MY honest reviews. I am NOT suggesting you buy these cameras, I am simply telling you what I think of these cameras. Make your decision on your own needs and READ THE REVIEWS other people post.

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The Loftek CXS2200

Loftek CXS2200

A nice Pan-Tilt IP Camera
for under $60.00
A Great Starter Camera

This camera is described on some websites where it is sold as an outdoor camera. It is NOT weatherproof. It can be used outdoors though if you protect it. It has IR NightVision, is an IP camera, and for the price, it is the best camera you can get IMHO. In my case, I used a cover that came with a 100 CD purchase to protect the base, and placed it under an eve on my garage. Even though it is an INDOOR camera, it has been outside since November 2011 and it is still going strong. It has survived some serious storms, and winters without a complaint. The picture is great, especially when you consider how little it costs. As I write this I looked it up on Amazon. It is currently selling for $59.99.

You can purchase a weatherproof housing for this camera, however it becomes a dome camera when you do. This will severely break its good NightVision by glare. If you cut a hole in a CD case like I did, you have free weatherproofing that will not blind it. This camera has pan and tilt, but zoom is not a feature it claims. If you use it digital zooming software it does digital zoom.

Features as I found on sites selling

  • 270 Degree PAN (left/right turn)
  • 90 Degree Tilt (up/down)
  • 640x480 Resolution (unknown MP but looks great)
  • Color
  • Has built in digital motion detection
  • Power Supply Included
  • Has External Speaker Jack
  • Has a built-in Microphone
  • IP Camera, RJ45 Ethernet Connector
  • Wireless (yuck).
  • Built in Email (Can Email you when it sees motion)
  • Email notification has photo attachments (some cameras don't do this, believe it or not)
  • Comes with very basic DVR software (Only works with this camera)

Digital motion detection is where the camera compares video frames from the scene it is monitoring. If there are significant differences between the frames, it declares a motion alarm. I am not a huge fan of digital motion detection, but this camera has it. Everything sets it off digital motion detection. A cloud goes by, the light changes and thus the camera declares an alarm. Digital motion detection would probably be acceptable indoors, but it is almost useless outside. I have it on this camera. I get a LOT of email from it. :-)

I can confirm the resolution of this camera is good. It is not HD though. You can't read a license plate on a car, but you should be able to identify faces of people. It is impressive for the price. If you visit the camera section of this site you can get a daytime and nighttime view of this camera LIVE. This is the ground view camera shown on this website.

This camera comes with FREE software that runs on a PC giving it DVR capabilities. You can record this camera with the software...from anywhere in the world. With a high speed internet connection on the camera and a high speed connection on your PC, you can record in one state while the camera is in another.

This camera does not require a PC or DVR to work. It will email you pictures and you can view it on your phone/tablet, you just need a PC to configure it, then it runs on the net.

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The Loftek Sentinel D1

Loftek Sentinel D1

A very nice Pan-Tilt-Zoom IP Camera

I do not believe Loftek still makes this camera. I can't find it for sale anywhere, which is unfortunate as I really like this camera. DO NOT confuse this with The Loftek Sentinel D2 or The Loftek Sentinel D3. This is a The Loftek Sentinel D1.

This camera is built for outside in a weather proof housing. The Loftek Sentinel D1 is a highly visible camera which will help discourage unwanted activity. It has excellent LOW LIGHT capabilities, it can see pretty well in color even in minimal lighting conditions.

Being a dome camera, you do not want IR lights glaring off the dome making it nearly blind. I have not checked out the D2 or D3 Sentinel. They are slightly more expensive and have IR capabilities however the comments I have read on those models are not positive, mostly for the exact reasons I have mentioned with Dome cameras and IR. They have tried some interesting "tricks" to get IR to work, but from the comments I read that others have made, they failed. Stick with the Sentinel D1, it is a good camera.

FEATURES (as taken from websites)

  • 340 Degree PAN
  • 90 Degree Tilt
  • 3X Digital Zoom
  • 8 Preset Positions (I Like!)
  • 640x480 Resolution (unknown MP but looks great)
  • Very Good Color
  • Has built in digital motion detection
  • Has external PIR Capabilities
  • Power Supply Included
  • Has External Speaker Jack
  • Has External Microphone Jack
  • IP Camera, RJ45 connector
  • IP Camera, has Wireless (yuck)
  • Built in Email (Can Email you when it sees motion)
  • Email notification has photo attachments (some cameras don't do this, believe it or not)
  • Comes with very basic DVR software (Only works with this camera)

What's a PIR you ask? A PIR is a Personal Infrared motion detector. It is a motion sensor that is wired to a port on the camera. In my case, I have a PIR on the trim around my front door. The camera is about 10 feet away on the corner of my house. If the PIR detects motion at my front door, the camera is notified. The camera then automatically moves to the preset position that points towards my front door, takes 5 clear snap shots about a second apart and Emails them to me. Nice feature.

I can confirm the resolution of this camera is good. It is not HD though, and can't find anything that shows the exact resolution. You can't read a license plate on a car, but you should be able to identify faces of people. It is impressive for the price. If you visit the camera section of this site you can get a daytime and nighttime view of this camera LIVE. This is the street/road view camera shown on this website.

Preset positions are a really nice feature. Point the camera to a spot. Zoom in, or out and save it in one of the 8 preset position spots. You can then command the camera to go to "preset position X" and the camera will quickly turn and zoom/unzoom to the position you saved.

Digital Zoom is a simulated zoom, it is not as good as Optical Zoom which is done with lenses, but it is still a nice feature.

Digital motion detection is where the camera compares video frames from the scene it is monitoring. If there are significant differences between the frames, it declares a motion alarm. I am not a huge fan of digital motion detection. Everything sets it off. A cloud goes by, the light changes and thus the camera declares an alarm. Digital motion detection would probably be acceptable indoors, but it is almost useless outside. I have it turned off on this camera. The PIR detects motion via IR and almost never gives me a false alarm.

Although this is one of my favorite cameras, it appears Loftek has discontinued it, the D2 and D3. I no longer see a description of these cameras on the Loftek website and can no longer find any for sale on Amazon. Oh well. there are some look alike's on Amazon. I do not know how well they work.

This camera sold for $160.00 when I purchased it. I am very cheap, so this is the most expensive camera I own. There are cameras that sell for a LOT more. I am not sure why you would pay a LOT more for a camera, but if you do and it turns out to be a better camera than this, let me know why you think so and I may include your findings here on this page.

This camera comes with FREE software that runs on a PC giving it DVR capabilities. You can record this camera with the software...from anywhere in the world. With a high speed internet connection on the camera and a high speed connection on your PC, you can record in one state while the camera is in another.

This camera does not require a PC or DVR to work. It will email you pictures and you can view it on your phone/tablet, you just need a PC to configure it, then it runs on the net.

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